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Analysing other people's edits


kye
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As I gradually get more serious about learning the art of editing, I've discovered it's a very under-represented topic on social media.  There are definitely some good resources, but compared to cinematography or colour grading, it's much more difficult to find resources, especially if your interest isn't purely narrative film-making.
A good strategy is to search for editors by name, as often the good stuff is just called "<name> presents at <event>" and no mention of editing or even film at all.  However, you can search for editor after editor and find nothing useful at all.

As such, I've now started analysing other people's edits directly, hoping to glean interesting things from their work.

My process is this.

Step 1: Download the video in a format that Resolve can read

I use 4K Video Downloader for Mac, but there's tonnes of options.  You're probably violating terms of service by doing this, so beware.

Step 2: Use the Scene Cut Detection feature in Resolve

Resolve has this amazing function that not many people know about.  It analyses the video frame-by-frame and tries to guess where the cut points are by how visually different one frame is from the previous one.  It's designed for colourists to be able to chop up shots when given a single file with the shots all back-to-back.

This isn't a tutorial on how to use it (the manual is excellent for this) but even this tool shows useful things.

Once it has analysed the video, it gives you the window to review and edit the cut points.  Here's a window showing a travel video from Matteo Bertoli:

image.thumb.png.401ec80f2a28222feb746025f9807ca4.png

What we can see here is that the video has very clear cuts (the taller the line the more change between frames) and they occur at very regular intervals (he's editing to the music), but that there are periods where the timing is different.  

Let's contrast that with the trailer for Mindhunter:

image.thumb.png.6eae77ce0fdb37ac8c4ff189e8b2a6a9.png

We can see that there's more variation in pacing, and more gradual transitions between faster and slower cutting.  Also, there are these bursts, which indicate fading in and out, which is used throughout the trailer.  These require some work to clean up before importing the shots to the project.

Lastly, this is the RED Komodo promo video with Jason Momoa and the bikers:

image.thumb.png.d06439afb58c28d964c8e536ae4d67b5.png

There are obviously a lot of clean edits, but the bursts in this case are shots with lots of movement, as this trailer has some action-filled and dynamic camera work.

I find this tool very useful to see pace and timing and overall structure of a video.  I haven't used it yet on things longer than 10 minutes, so not sure how it would go in those instances, but you can zoom in and scroll in this view, so presumably you could find a useful scale and scroll through, seeing what you see.

This tool creates a list of shots, and gives a magic button...

image.thumb.png.d498a194718e9985110236d0c12682bc.png

Then you get the individual shots in your media pool.

Step 3: "Recreation" of the timeline

From there you can pull those shots into the timeline, which looks like this:

image.thumb.png.f706232217bbbc7e3b5559938989a2bf.png

However, this wouldn't have been how they would have edited it, and for educational purposes we can do better.

I like to start by manually chopping up the audio independently from the video (the Scene Cut Detection tool is visual-only after all).  For this you would pull in sections of music, maybe sections of interviews, speeches, or ambient soundscapes as individual clips.  If there are speeches overlapping with music then you could duplicate these, with one track showing the music and another showing the speeches.  

Remember, this timeline doesn't have to play perfectly, it's for studying the edit they made by trying to replicate the relevant details.

This travel video had one music track and no foley, so I'd just represent it like this:

image.thumb.png.4dd4123f38f4ab0817838ace696e5ac2.png

I've expanded the height of the audio track as with this type of music-driven edit, the swells of the music are a significant structural component to the edit.  

It's immediately obvious, even in such a basic deconstruction, that the pace of editing changes each time the music picks up in intensity, that once it's at its highest the pace of editing stays relatively stable and regular, and then at the end the pace gradually slows down.  Even just visually we can see the structure of the story and journey that the video takes through its edit.

But, we can do more.  Wouldn't it be great to be able to see where certain techniques were used?  Framing, subject matter, scenes, etc etc?

We can represent these visually, through layers and colour coding and other techniques.

Here is my breakdown of another Matteo video:

image.thumb.png.dc67b80dd9f4889caebf60c72fe71c2e.png

Here's what I've done:

  • V6 are the "hero" shots of the edit.  Shots in orange are where either Matteo or his wife (the heroes of the travel video) are the subject of the video, and pink are close-ups of them
  • V5 is where either Matteo or his wife are in the shot, but it doesn't feature them so prominently.  IIRC these examples are closeup shots of Matteo's wife holding her phone, or one of them featured non-prominently in the frame, perhaps not even facing camera
  • V4 and below do not feature our heroes...
  • V4 either features random people (it's a travel video so people are an important subject) prominently enough to distinguish individuals, or features very significant inanimate objects
  • V3 features people at a significant enough distance to not really notice individuals, or interesting inanimate objects (buildings etc)
  • V2 are super-wide shots with no details of people (wides of the city skyline, water reflections on a river, etc)
  • V1 is where I've put in dummy clips to categorise "scenes", and in this case Green is travel sections shot in transport or of transport, and Blue is shots at a location

V2-V6 are my current working theory of how to edit a travel film, and represents a sort of ranking where closeups of your heroes are the most interesting and anonymous b-roll is the least interesting.  You should adapt this to be whatever you're interested in.  You could categorise shots based on composition, which characters are in the shot, which lens was used, if there was movement in the shot, if there was dialogue from the person in-shot or dialog from the person not-in-shot or no dialog at all, etc etc.  Remember you can sort between tracks, you can colour code, and probably other things I haven't yet tried.  NLEs have lots of visual features so go nuts.

Step 4: Understand what the editor has done

Really this depends on what you're interested in learning, but I recommend the following approach:

  1. Make a list of questions or themes to pay attention to
  2. Focus on just one question / theme and review the whole timeline just looking at this one consideration

I find that it's easy to review an edit and every time you look at the start you notice one thing (eg, pacing), and then in the next section you notice another (eg, compositions), and then at the end you notice a third (eg, camera movement).  The problem with this is that every time you review the video you're only going to think of those things at those times, which means that although you've seen the pacing at the start you're not going to be noticing the compositions and camera movement at the start, or other factors at other times.  This is why focusing on one question or one theme at a time is so powerful, it forces you to notice things that aren't the most obvious.

Step 5: Look for patterns

We have all likely read about how in many films different characters have different music - their "theme".  Star Wars is the classic one, of course, with Darth Vaders theme being iconic.  This is just using a certain song for a certain character.  There are an almost infinite number of other potential relationships that an editor could be paying attention to, but because we can't just ask them, we have to try and notice them for ourselves. 

Does the editor tend to use a certain pacing for a certain subject?  Colour grade for locations (almost definitely, but study them and see what you can learn)?  Combinations of shots?

What about the edit points themselves?  If it's a narrative, does the editor cut some characters off, cutting to another shot while they're still talking, or immediately after they've stopped speaking, rather than lingering on them for longer?  Do certain characters get a lot of J cuts?  Do certain characters get more than their fair share of reaction shots (typically the main characters would as we care more about what main characters think than what secondary characters feel while they're talking).

On certain pivotal scenes or moments, watch the footage back very slowly and see what you can see.  Even stepping through frame-by-frame can be revealing and potentially illuminate invisible cuts or other small tweaks.  Changing the timing of an edit point by even a single frame can make a non-trivial aesthetic difference.  

Step 6: Optional - Change the edit

Change the timing of edits and see what happens.  In Resolve the Scene Cut Detection doesn't include any extra frames, so you can't slide edit points the way you normally would be able to when working with the real source footage, but if you pull in the whole video into a track underneath the individual clips you can sometimes rearrange clips to leave gaps and they're not that noticeable.  This obviously won't create a publishable re-edit, but for the purposes of learning about the edit it can be useful.  You can change the order of the existing clips, you can shorten clips and change the timing, etc.  You could even re-mix the whole edit if you wanted to, working within the context of a severely limited set of "source footage" of course, but considering that the purpose of this is to learn and understand, it's worth considering.

Final thoughts

Is this a lot of work?  Yes.  But learning anything is hard work - the brain is lazy that way.  Also, this might be the only way to learn certain things about certain editors, as it seems that editors are much less public people than other roles in film-making.

One experiment I tried was instead of taking the time to chop up and categorise a film, I just watched it on repeat for the same amount of time.  I watched a 3.5 minute travel film on repeat for about 45 minutes - something like a dozen times.  I started watching it just taking it in and paying attention to what I noticed, then I started paying attention to how I felt in response to each shot, then to the timing of the shots (I clapped along to the music paying attention to the timing of edits - I was literally repeating out loud "cut - two - three - four"), I paid attention to the composition, to the subject, etc etc..  But, I realised that by the time I had watched a minute of footage I'd sort-of forgotten what happened 30 shots ago, so getting the big-picture wasn't so easy, and when I chopped that film up, although I'd noticed some things, there were other things that stood out almost immediately that I hadn't noticed the dozen times I watched it, despite really paying attention.

Hopefully this is useful.

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Interesting hard work, Kye : ) At the film school following a full-time three years program on editing plus a year of internship, we had basically two bibles :

  1. Edward Dmytryk 
  2. Walter Murch (on YT)

The invisible editing mannered by the neorealism towards the synthetic contribution to the current contemporary forms seen today, comes essentially along the pioneering effort and findings from three fathers of all this I vividly recommend ; )

 

 

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Editing is a fascinating but smokey art. It seams to slowly blow away when you try to talk about it, a bit as waking up and trying to remember your dream, imho. I don't know how much it is repeatable. I always felt that I haven't studied enough of it. Your idea of detecting cuts with Resolve is great!

I am on a video editing FB group in Italy. Not once editing is talked about. Just usual Mac/PC, GPUs, Premiere problems, which NLE to choose, how to deliver to some TV, etc.  

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18 hours ago, Emanuel said:

Interesting hard work, Kye : ) At the film school following a full-time three years program on editing plus a year of internship, we had basically two bibles :

  1. Edward Dmytryk 
  2. Walter Murch (on YT)

The invisible editing mannered by the neorealism towards the synthetic contribution to the current contemporary forms seen today, comes essentially along the pioneering effort and findings from three fathers of all this I vividly recommend ; )

Thanks - excellent links and I'll definitely review them.  I'm familiar with Walter Murch and have his book but didn't spot that playlist, which looks excellent.  I've watched a number of his talks, but they seem to be around the same time and have the same content.

12 hours ago, Grimor said:

I like the YT channel "This guy edits" 

https://youtube.com/c/ThisGuyEdits

Yes, definitely a great channel, and his series when editing the feature where he showed actual editing was great.  It's hugely useful to watch someone actually doing the work, so you can see the effects and see what they're seeing, rather than just talking about stuff.

The challenge I have is that my work isn't narrative, but travel, and Sven is very focused on that, which is very useful to others.

4 hours ago, Xavier Plagaro Mussard said:

Editing is a fascinating but smokey art. It seams to slowly blow away when you try to talk about it, a bit as waking up and trying to remember your dream, imho. I don't know how much it is repeatable. I always felt that I haven't studied enough of it. Your idea of detecting cuts with Resolve is great!

I am on a video editing FB group in Italy. Not once editing is talked about. Just usual Mac/PC, GPUs, Premiere problems, which NLE to choose, how to deliver to some TV, etc.  

I totally agree - it's very intangible.  Both Walter Murch and Sven (ThisGuyEdits) describe the process as being very visceral - literally based on the feeling of your gut (viscera).  

Another thing I do is grab screenshots while I'm watching things on Netflix / Prime / etc as references for colour grading.  I'm always trying to find a moment when the actor stops moving so I don't have motion blur in the frame.  
The reason I bring this up is that almost without fail, they cut just before that happens.  I mean, I regularly stop the video on the first frame of the next shot, and can do that reliably even when I haven't seen the footage before.  I don't really know what that means in editing terms, or even acting terms.  

Walter Murch mentioned a technique where he would be working on a cut and would skip back 5-10s, watch the sequence, and hit pause when he thought the cut should be - doing it by feel.  He would take note of the frame number, then skip back and do it again.  He would repeat this process until he was hitting the same exact frame reliably, and then he'd know that this frame was the right frame to make the cut.  IIRC he said something like until he's able to hit the same frame reliably he hasn't understood the timing of the material yet, so the process is really an exploration and learning experience, with the reliability indicating that the learning has completed.

The titular premise of Walters book "In The Blink of an Eye" is that we blink when we've finished a thought, and so you typically want to cut when the thought is finished, which is just before the blink.  It could be that people tend to move while thought is occurring, and then pause when one thought ends and the next begins.  This is probably linked to speech in some way, but I'm not sure how.

Anyway, pulling apart the material like this is a great way to really study it in detail.

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Indeed, Walter Murch is a monument : ) Something I could immediately extract from his testimony, is the cut over the characters' movement -- I think it's one of his finest contributions, obviously, too little to define it:

https://www.premiumbeat.com/blog/when-and-where-to-make-the-cut-inspired-by-walter-murchs-in-the-blink-of-an-eye/

https://www.studiobinder.com/blog/walter-murch-rule-of-six/

https://musicbed.com/blog/filmmaking/editing/editing-secrets-from-legendary-editor-walter-murch

From a conversation with him:

https://www.provideocoalition.com/aotc-murch-bcpc/

More around from:

https://blog.filmsupply.com/articles/5-editing-lessons-from-walter-murch/47/

https://www.yoair.com/blog/editing-on-film-how-a-good-cut-creates-an-impactful-message/

And an interesting recent degree thesis about his famous rule of six.

 

Some other important individual I got the chance to have her as one of my instructors at film school but personally in her case along his nice husband the legend John Bailey, is the Lawrence Kasdan and Spielberg's E.T. editor, Carol Littleton. Here's an interview and a free audiobook with her to whom loves her showpieces and cutting work:

https://cinemontage.org/silent-revolutionary-carol-littleton/

https://www.audible.com/pd/An-Evening-with-Film-Editor-Carol-Littleton-Audiobook/B002V01IR6

 

Finally, a last contemporary bibliography reference, another woman and wife of Sam O'Steen (The Graduate, Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown and many others), also available at the Manhattan Edit Workshop BTW as much as the above-mentioned audiobook:

https://www.bobbieosteen.com/2020/12/watch-my-panel-inside-the-cutting-room-of-sam-osteen/

 

 

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Yeah, uncredited, sorta cameo à la Hitch : D with whom he started his career BTW with The Wrong Man, on which he worked as assistant editor.

Here's more stuff from Bobbie O'Steen and her husband's life dedicated to the movies, already in a period where the modern cinema comes up to the silver screen; brings a contribution of his own to the motion pictures within the mainstream -- interesting the fact he collaborated with them for decades:

https://www.bobbieosteen.com/blog/

Many videos on topic right there in this channel to prove YT is not only shills, money and garbage ;- )

 

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Another astonishing film editor I can never forget the fortune I had of a personal contact with and I could make part of my own learning from, is La double vie de Véronique and Trois couleurs: Bleu & Rouge's editor, the French Jacques Witta...

Where editing is not a matter of space but much of time... Bazin and Deleuze are there ; )

https://www.criterionchannel.com/three-colors-red/videos/jacques-witta-on-red

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Thanks you very much for the insightful reflection and all the work! @kye Now i need to montage and edit all this information in my head.😊

@Emanuel
I was always astonished by the montage of "chelovek s kino apparatom", which was edited by Elisaveta Svilova. I am astonished by some classic movies, by how good or great they are when I watch them for the first time. Some modern masterpieces are equally mindblowing and breathaking of course.

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3 hours ago, PannySVHS said:

Thanks you very much for the insightful reflection and all the work! @kye Now i need to montage and edit all this information in my head.😊

@Emanuel
I was always astonished by the montage of "chelovek s kino apparatom", which was edited by Elisaveta Svilova. I am astonished by some classic movies, by how good or great they are when I watch them for the first time. Some modern masterpieces are equally mindblowing and breathaking of course.

Editing might be, perhaps, one of the only things in film-making where you can't buy results.  Writing might be another one.

With editing, if you have equipment good enough to edit, then the only difference between a blah edit and a spectacular edit is the skill of the editor.

In terms of classic movies, while editing on film was obviously not as easy as an NLE, they had most of the tools at their disposal.  Even if you're just limited to making a simple cut, most edits would not be diminished by this restriction.  The ability to dissolve, either fading to black or white or cross dissolving, gives more expressive freedom, but it's not a hugely common technique.  ie, it's used very very rarely compared to the straight cut.  The addition of the NLE feature to gradually crop a shot can allow the fine-tuning of match-cuts, which I notice in older film films are sometimes not quite aligned and so it diminishes the effect.  However, the match cut is even rarer still, making the availability to match framing almost, but not quite, irrelevant.

When I was choosing which NLE to go with, FCPX, PP, or Resolve, I realised I needed very powerful colour grading functionality, including stabilisation, but only very basic editing functionality.  I find this to be true now, even more than then.  I haven't used anything except a straight cut or the odd dissolve in any serious way in any of the dozens of videos I've edited.  Resolves ability to do fancy things is going up and up, and my desire to use anything fancy at all is going down and down and down.

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When I was choosing which NLE to go with, FCPX, PP, or Resolve, I realised I needed very powerful colour grading functionality, including stabilisation, but only very basic editing functionality.  I find this to be true now, even more than then.  I haven't used anything except a straight cut or the odd dissolve in any serious way in any of the dozens of videos I've edited.

I generally also use just straight cuts or the occasional dissolve, but even when doing straight cuts I find that doing J-cuts, L-cuts, inserts and in general, timing shots and audio together the way I want can get quite complicated due to dependencies between shots in timings between audio and video and that some editors make all this a lot easier than others. This is one of the reasons why I haven't transitioned to Resolve yet. Maybe I just never learned Resolve properly but I do find it's interface to actually edit, combine and time in- and out-points between shots and audio not particularly convenient. E.g. if you learn the keyboard shortcuts in Vegas Pro which I currently use, you can basically do anything you want without having to lift your fingers off the keyboard and slip and slide all event edges or clip content anyway you like. (Too bad I don't use it often enough to become really proficient in it :-/) I haven't discovered such convenience yet with Resolve.

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8 hours ago, Michael S said:

I generally also use just straight cuts or the occasional dissolve, but even when doing straight cuts I find that doing J-cuts, L-cuts, inserts and in general, timing shots and audio together the way I want can get quite complicated due to dependencies between shots in timings between audio and video and that some editors make all this a lot easier than others. This is one of the reasons why I haven't transitioned to Resolve yet. Maybe I just never learned Resolve properly but I do find it's interface to actually edit, combine and time in- and out-points between shots and audio not particularly convenient. E.g. if you learn the keyboard shortcuts in Vegas Pro which I currently use, you can basically do anything you want without having to lift your fingers off the keyboard and slip and slide all event edges or clip content anyway you like. (Too bad I don't use it often enough to become really proficient in it :-/) I haven't discovered such convenience yet with Resolve.

I don't really know what the capability of Resolve is from the perspective of a professional editor.

At one point I looked around for editors using Resolve and there basically weren't any, as its reputation was as a colour package and industry changes slowly.  I suspect that there are more features available than you might think, but maybe now as many as you would want.

If you haven't looked already, the manual is huge and very well written.

Sven from ThatGuyEdits seemed to make a lot of very slight J cuts where he cut the audio right at the start of a word and then cut to the shot of the person speaking a few frames later, which I was surprised to see softened the cut so much that it seemed to go from being quite percussive to almost invisible, maybe the brain was mostly too busy with the start of an audio something to notice the visual changing.  Very interesting effect though.

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Still at it, but now looking at TV episodes.

In contrast to the short YT films, here's the analysis from a 40 minute TV episode:

image.thumb.png.b62c4ea2d3fa1c7ae8f786b1d020a096.png

Almost 2000 cuts!

The way this works is that you're analysing a clip BEFORE adding it to the media pool, and when you add all the clips into the media pool you can't change the start and end points.  So during the analysis process you can further cut up these clips as they appear on the timeline, but you can't join some together.  

I'm not going to review these manually, and there will be false-positives (it thinks the arrival of a lens flare or other motion is a cut) and false-negatives (a jump cut that isn't too visually different) so there is no threshold that will get them all right.  As such, I take a cautious approach and set the threshold high, so it misses real cuts but doesn't cut up shots on big movement.  This way, if I'm analysing a part of the timeline I can further cut it up manually, but I won't be stuck with cuts that shouldn't be there.

This approach creates about 1000 cuts, which is about a cut every 2.4 seconds.  Not too far off really.

Then I can start sorting and in the parts where I want to see every cut I can manually refine at that point.

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Speaking of cuts, I remember when the Tom Hardy Mad Max came out and it had something like 10x as many cuts as the original.

Could be much more than 10 actually.

I presume it’s been a gradual change with most movies…

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5 hours ago, MrSMW said:

Speaking of cuts, I remember when the Tom Hardy Mad Max came out and it had something like 10x as many cuts as the original.

Could be much more than 10 actually.

I presume it’s been a gradual change with most movies…

I've heard some editors say that the trend of having more cuts is just lazy film-making.  I can't remember where or I'd link it.

The rationale was that cutting creates visual change, and makes things seem like they're moving and exciting.  I think frequent cutting is used a lot in fight scenes.  The example I saw was comparing a fight scene that had lots of cuts (can't remember where it was) with a fight scene from one of the original Bourne trilogy where Matt Damon fights a guy in Morocco (?) and it had a lot less cuts but was still really brutal.  When you looked at the two scenes one after the other, the scene with more cuts actually had less action and less innovative camera angles and cinematography.  Basically they were trying to pump up a weak scene by having you constantly trying to re-orient yourself and not notice that the content wasn't that exciting.

If you're curious, there's a fascinating effect by having extremely long shots that seems different to normal cinema.  I remember in particular that both Russian Ark and Roma had.  Like it was a different kind of cinema, at least after it'd been a while since the previous cut.  IIRC Roma had a few sections of relatively normal cutting with some hugely long shots.

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20 minutes ago, kye said:

Basically they were trying to pump up a weak scene by having you constantly trying to re-orient yourself and not notice that the content wasn't that exciting.

Sounds like most wedding videos...

(Mine included) 🤪

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